Simplified Immigration Application Process May Lead to Further Changes

Last week Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) implemented a new, simplified process for overseas immigration applications. Those applying under the Economic Class (skilled workers, investors, entrepreneurs and self-employed) now only need to submit a fairly simple three-page application form along with the processing fee to begin the process of having their application assessed.

All other documents – language test results, employment reference letters, diplomas and degrees, business documents, etc. – do not need to be submitted by the applicant until much later in the process at the request of the visa office.

Only those who are applying through the visa office in Buffalo, New York are fully exempt from this new policy. Also exempt are skilled workers applying with arranged employment in Canada and applicants to the province of Quebec or one of the Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs).

The rationale behind this policy is twofold: first, since economic class applications are typically taking several years to process, it doesn’t make sense to ask for documentation like, in the case of business immigrants, financial statements and tax returns that will have to be updated when the visa office finally gets around to reviewing the file. According to CIC, visa offices have begun spending far too much time updating skilled worker and business immigration files that were submitted years ago.

The second rationale was the need to preserve precious filing space in overseas missions where office space is often at a premium. The worldwide inventory of Economic Class applications is now over 500,000 persons according to CIC. Meanwhile, at current immigration levels, the average processing time for these cases is roughly 4 years. At this rate, visa offices are simply running out of room.

This new policy is generally advantageous to the applicant. It allows a skilled worker or business immigrant to begin the process of immigrating in a relatively painless way. The form required will not take more than a few minutes to complete for most applicants. Once it is filed along with the processing fee, an individual has secured their place in the queue. And when their number is called, so to speak, they are then asked to submit a full application and supporting documentation.

The more interesting thing about this new policy is the possibilities it raises in terms of how CIC might “control the intake” of applications in the future. As I noted in a column last spring, this change in policy may be the first step toward implementing an immigration “lucky draw” processing model. Under such a model, the federal government would set a ceiling on the number of full applications that would be allowed into the system each year. This ceiling would be determined both by perceived labour market needs across the country and by the processing capacity of visa offices overseas.

Applicants who have submitted the simplified application that is now required could in the future be determined to constitute a pool from which full applicants would be selected on some random basis. If selected, they would be asked to submit a full and complete application. The expectation would then be that their application would be processed in a reasonable period – perhaps in no more than 18 months.

But what is more interesting under such a model is what would happen to those whose ticket is not selected from the pool of applicants. These individuals could have their simplified applications flushed out of the system whereupon they would be told their application would not be processed any further and that they could try again next year.

The idea behind this is to have a mechanism to control the number of applications in the system and therefore manage the processing times in a more effective fashion. At present, even with the simplified application process, visa offices have no control over how many applicants apply and therefore need ultimately to be processed. Hence the lengthy processing times.

I don’t think the second part of this reform is going to happen before the next federal election. It will be a tricky thing to design and implement from a political standpoint. For example, the immigration “lucky draw” could not be truly random if Ottawa wants to maintain the current mix of countries from which it receives immigrants. A weighting process of some kind will have to be used to prevent major source countries like China and India from completing dominating the Economic Class stream.

So I doubt very much the Conservatives will take it on while they are in a minority government situation. But I do think it will get serious consideration at some point in the next two to three years. And, if adopted, it will radically change the way our immigration system determines who qualifies for permanent residence in Canada.